Belly fat. Cue the collective sigh, because we all know that the struggle is very, very real. On the one hand, we are surrounded by celebrities who seem to have perfect bodies, bounce back from a baby, and “age” with nary a fine line, while we work desk jobs and dream of that perfect Gisele midsection. What if I told you that your midsection isn’t as hopeless as you thought? That’s right, you can lose belly fat. But it is going to take a little work, and no, there is no magical tool that will do it for you.
First off, what are the reasons for excess belly fat?
Quite simply, your belly pooch has resulted from an imbalance in calories in vs. calories worked out. Regardless of who we are, the human body produces fat when calorie intake is in excess. Even so, you might be eating half the calories of your best friend, and she loses weight while you do not. The reason is that some people are simply blessed with high resting metabolisms. One more reason to envy Gisele.
Another reason you might be holding excess weight around your middle? Hormones. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone fluctuate with our ages, and imbalances of those hormones can result in weight being more likely to deposit in certain areas. Yet another hormone might be to blame: cortisol, aka the stress hormone. If you are stressed out (often about trying to lose weight, which just results in a vicious cycle!), your cortisol levels will rise, and your body will start to hold on to weight, often in your midsection.
Finally, some of us are just genetically predisposed to depositing weight around our middles due to our body shape or just the way that our bodies work. For example, “apple shapes” tend to retain weight around their middles, while “pear shapes” carry weight lower.
Beyond Vanity: Another Very Important Reason to Care About Belly Fat
Belly fat is more than just skin-deep: fat around your midsection can actually be a powerful indicator of your long-term health. Visceral fat – fat that surrounds your organs and is largely present around your midsection – is a major contributor to such health issues as Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, heart disease, and even certain cancers. In short, whittling down your middle can save your life!
How to Get Rid of Excess Belly Fat:
First, you must address the reasons for the belly fat in the first place: Diet and exercise? Hormones? Genetics? You might even need to get a doctor involved, particularly if you think that you are at risk for having visceral fat or hormonal imbalances that are preventing you from losing weight.
Most important in losing belly fat is to remember that you cannot “spot reduce,” or lose weight ONLY in a certain place. So while you might wish that you could just do 100 crunches a night for a six-pack, it might also comfort you to know that you don’t have to do 100 crunches a night to get a better, slimmer midsection!
Rather, you need to focus on burning calories by increasing your heart rate in a workout that incorporates both strength training and moderate- to high-intensity cardio. This will provide the added benefit of increasing your resting metabolic rate (remember that friend who can eat all the cheeseburgers?), because by adding strength or resistance training (lower immediate calorie burning) to moderate- to high-intensity cardio (high immediate calorie burning), you will increase lean muscle mass, which will increase your resting metabolism, and thus help you burn more calories just by being alive!
So get that heart rate up, even if you do so in spurts. Look for exercise classes that incorporate HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, principles, or add in cardio bursts to your circuit workout. Focus on total-body exercises, which will engage more muscles simultaneously, and thus burn more calories and develop more lean muscle
Some of the best core-strengthening exercises are traditional planks, side planks, leg lowers and raises, exercise ball pass-offs, and properly executed bicycle crunches.
Core-strengthening exercises should be incorporated into every workout you do, whether sprinkled throughout or in one 5-minute block.
Banish the Bloat: Dietary Changes That Will Combat Belly Fat
Working out does not guarantee a flat tummy, but a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can yield big results.
Watch sodium intake: Buy low-sodium products and add your own salt, preferably in the form of sea salt (not table salt)
Decrease processed foods and artificial sweeteners, which can increase inflammation and also cause gas in your belly.
Reach for whole, natural fats over “fake” or added fats. Think avocado or natural nut butter over salted butter. If you have to have butter, reach for smaller amounts of the real thing, and not margarine. But see if you really need butter as much as you think. You might not.
Increase fiber intake and go for whole grains. Aim for 25-30 g daily, but if you normally have a low-fiber diet, do so gradually so that you don’t inadvertently cause bloat as you stomach gets used to the new food!
Another added benefit of actually getting out there and getting moving? As you “work it out,” you may find that you are able to deal with some of your stressors, sleep better, and thus lower cortisol levels (which are causing you to hold on to that excess fat).
You might not be able to spot reduce, but by strengthening your core as you make some dietary changes, decrease stress, and increase your calorie burn, that killer body will be revealed as the fat melts away!